The release of In the Heights, the big-screen adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Broadway show, has not gone as swimmingly as some would have liked. For one thing, it underperformed at the box office. For another, it attracted rave reviews but also some very pointed criticism, with some taking issue with the dearth of Afro-Latinos performers. On Tuesday night, legendary actress and performer Rita Moreno — whose new doc is executive produced by Miranda — tried to come to the film’s defense, only to inspire a backlash of her own.
On Wednesday she issued a mea culpa to The Hollywood Reporter, apologizing for what she’d said and trying to make amends with the community to which the Puerto Rican icon belongs.
Moreno’s inciting words came during her appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. Before that, Miranda himself had already issued a formal apology, saying, “In trying to paint a mosaic of this community, we fell short. I’m truly sorry.” But when asked about the controversy, Moreno offered a fulsome defense of the Hamilton creator.
“It’s like you can never do right it seems,” she told Colbert. “This is the man who literally has brought Latino-ness and Puerto Rican-ness to America. I couldn’t do it. I would love to say I did, but I couldn’t. When Colbert pressed her to clarify her position, she replied, “Well I’m simply saying: Can’t you just wait a while and leave it alone?”, adding, “They’re really attacking the wrong person.”
The response was volcanic, with many disappointed that Moreno — the first Hispanic actress to win an Oscar, for West Side Story, who fought to shatter many a glass ceiling — would be defensive about what were seen as legitimate critiques of a movie even its playwright felt fell short. But Moreno eventually issued an apology:
“I’m incredibly disappointed with myself. While making a statement in defense of Lin Manuel Miranda on the Colbert Show last night, I was clearly dismissive of black lives that matter in our Latin community. It is so easy to forget how celebration for some is lament for others. In addition to applauding Lin for his wonderful movie version of In the Heights, let me add my appreciation for his sensitivity and resolve to be more inclusive of the Afro-Latino community going forward. See, you CAN teach this old dog new tricks.”
Moreno is herself an executive producer of Steven Spielberg’s forthcoming remake of West Side Story, which shares certain affinities with In the Heights. She’s also the subject of Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go For It, chronicling her decades as a groundbreaking star. In the Heights is now playing in theaters and on HBO Max.